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An interpretation of Peruzzi’s frieze in the Sala Del Fregio, Villa Farnesina, Rome Jensen, Josephine

Abstract

Although the fresco decoration of Agostino Chigi's Villa Farnesina in Rome has received much scholarly attention, the precise meaning of the decoration in several of the rooms is still not known. This thesis is concerned with one of these rooms, the Sala del Fregio, on the ground floor, which contains a continuous frieze running around the top of the four walls. This frieze was painted by Baldessare Peruzzi in 1512. While ten of the mythological stories represented in the frieze have been identified, there is a large segment of it for which no satisfactory explanation has been given. Furthermore, to date, only one scholar has tentatively suggested a theme for the entire decoration of this room, which interpretation, however, is not totally convincing. In this thesis, a literary source for the unidentified part of the frieze is proposed, and a new interpretation of the meaning of the entire decoration is given. It is suggested that not one literary text, i.e., Ovid's Metamorphoses was used in the formulation of this frieze, but several, very specific texts. These texts are all post-classical, where the authors concerned have interpreted the myths allegorically. An analysis of these texts has made it possible to come to a more definite conclusion regarding the meaning of the frieze. The recurrent theme that emerges from this analysis of sources centres on the Neo-Platonic doctrine of the immortality of the soul. The second part of the thesis examines this Neo-Platonic doctrine of immortality as it may relate to the patron, Agostino Chigi, and it attempts to answer the question: What special significance could this subject have had for the patron himself? At almost exactly the same date when Peruzzi painted the frieze in the Sala del Fregio, i.e., 1512, Agostino Chigi commissioned Raphael to design and decorate his mortuary chapel in the Church of S. Maria del Popolo. In the mosaic decoration of the cupola of the mausoleum, as has already been established by Shearman, the same Neo-Platonic doctrine of the immortality of the soul is expressed. A relationship of theme, therefore, exists between the idea stated in the cupola of the mausoleum and the frieze in the Sala del Fregio. This thesis explores the connection between the two programs and, as part of this exploration, proposes a leading Augustinian scholar and Platonist, Egidio da Viterbo, as the most likely humanist adviser for both programs. In conclusion, the thesis considers, but only briefly, the themes of the classical subjects depicted in the other major rooms of the ground floor of the Villa Farnesina, to see whether these also contain allusions to immortality. It is suggested that they do, and this raises the possibility which is, however, another full subject for research not broached in this thesis, that there may be, in fact, a unified program for the whole villa, one centered on the doctrine of the immortality of the soul.

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